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In recent years, standardized testing has become the basis for learning standards. Lesson plans and school activities tend to be built around what will be on the standardized tests that year, leaving little room for teachers to come up with creative activities. This has caused concern to teachers, students, and parents around the country. While standardized testing is meant to aid school systems in what the national or state standards are, it seems to do the opposite.
The testing craze caught fire with the No Child Left Behind Act signed by George W. Bush in 2002 (Klein). Alyson Klein discusses the reasons behind the act, what the act requires, and criticisms associated with the act in her article “No Child Left Behind: An Overview” published in 2015 on Education Newsweek. Klein begins her article with an introduction about the act, and by stating that the No Child Left Behind Act was replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, but she does not go into detail on what the Every Student Succeeds Act is, which is confusing. She then explains the Elementary and Secondary Education Act signed by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, which was the first act that really assigned the federal a role in public education. Since then, different acts have been trying to expand the federal government’s role in public education, which was achieved in the No Child Left Behind Act.
Klein states that the No Child Left Behind Act was signed because, “of concern that the American education system was no longer internationally competitive” (Klein). This new act was built to ensure that students are getting the education needed to be successful. From this definition, Klein lists what states and schools must do to under this act because if the states failed to comply, then they wouldn’t receive any federal funding. In simple terms, schools must test students on certain subjects in an attempt to get them to AYP or adequate yearly progress (Klein). If they fail to reach this AYP multiple years in a row, then a series of consequences as small as offering free tutoring, to as large as the school shutting down or the state taking it over (Klein). From this, criticisms have arisen regarding the act including: schools are relying too much on standardized testing, the act does not have enough funding, and not much has changed in lower quality schools. In response, Obama’s administration attempted to fix these problems by having states adopt common core standards or having a higher education institution, such as a university, sign off that their courses are good enough.
Although Klein’s article is organized and clear, there are still questions left unanswered. For example, she does not go into the effects of changes from Obama’s administration, or details about the Every Student Succeeds Act. However, Klein does use an abundant amount of reliable sources including the actual No Child Left Behind Act text. In addition, her use of a timeline helps readers have a better understanding of the events she mentions.
Where Klein simply explains the legislation involved with standardized testing, Kimberly O’Malley describes why standardized testing is used and the steps in how the test itself is made in her research article “Standardized Testing. What is it and how Does It Work?” The blogpost was written in 2012 for Pearson, a company who makes standardized tests, however, since then, O’Malley has become the senior vice president of the Research Triangle Institute International Education and Workforce Development, which gives her credibility on the topic of standardized testing.
O’Malley begins the article by explaining what tests are given to which age group and that each state develops their own tests. She then lists steps in how the tests are made. Each state adopts standards of learning and the test questions are developed from them. The test questions themselves are usually created by teachers, and plenty of time is spent on making the “wrong answers” because, “Incorrect answers can actually tell us a lot about what students misunderstood,” which is interesting (O’Malley). The questions are then reviewed and sent out for field testing, where the students take them and based on the results, the test developers can determine whether it is a good question or a bad question. Finally, the test itself is made, and the students take the test.
O’Malley does not come right out and say that she is one of the people who creates the test, but her use of “we” in the article alludes that she is. Also, since Pearson is one of the companies that creates the test, it is safe to say that the information she lists is accurate. It is interesting that she mentions teachers as the ones coming up with the test questions because growing up I heard countless groans and complaints coming from my teachers about the standardized test questions. However, O’Malley emphasizes that these tests take years to develop before given to the students.
With O’Malley’s seemingly effective way of formulating standardized tests, it is easy to assume that standardized tests are beneficial, which is what Dr. Gail Gross focuses on in her article “The Value of Standardized Testing”. Her article, while purely opinionated, focuses on the arguments involving equal curriculum and education across states and improving teaching methods. The equal curriculum and education across states argument involves the idea that standardized tests make sure that every school district is teaching what they are supposed to, and that the students are learning what they are supposed to. Basically, standardized tests are a baseline for what schools should be teaching. These tests are not biased and are honest about the students’ abilities, so schools cannot manipulate the scores. With the information given by the scores, teachers can then change their teaching methods if their students are not doing well.
In addition, Gross gives advice on how standardized testing can be improved. One piece of advice she gives is that standardized tests should be biannual (Gross). Therefore, students who did not do well on the first test can get extra help in their problem areas, which would not only help them, but the teacher and her methods of teaching. She also recommends that teachers not stress students out, or inspire them to cheat, which seems obvious, but easier said than done. Her last piece of advice is that it is okay that teachers are teaching to a test because it is beneficial to students. She does not go into detail on this matter, which would have been helpful.
Gross states her credentials early in the article as a teacher with a doctorate in education and Ph.D. in psychology. Perhaps this experience gives her claims meaning, but it would have been helpful if she had sources to back her up. Her arguments do not go into very much detail, which would have been very helpful to not only help readers understand, but to help convince them. When Gross stated her credentials, she also said that she has spent a decent amount of time studying how children learn, which could have been a good argument. She could use her research to prove that standardized testing improves students’ intelligence, or somehow use her expertise to show that learning and standardized testing have a positive correlation, but she does not. This makes me question her arguments as well because with her doctorate and Ph.D. she would have some sort of research to back up her arguments.
In contrast, the article “How Standardized Tests Shape- and Limit- Student Learning” written by Anne Ruggles Gere discusses the negative effects that standardized tests have on students’ learning. This article is comprised of three arguments, that standardized testing is: changing how teachers are teaching, changing and narrowing the curriculum, and limiting student learning. The argument that the way that standardized testing is changing the way that teachers are teaching pushes the idea that teachers are doing their traditional jobs, plus extra. These extra tasks include teaching more to the test, grouping students based on learning capabilities, and doing remedial work for those students who failed to pass their tests. These tasks take up a lot of time and because of them, teachers, “lose between 60 to 110 hours of instructional time in a year,” which adds up considering how long students are in the classroom (Gere). Teachers also are not given the freedom to teach their own curriculum because now they have to teach to the curriculum of the test.
The second argument focuses on the narrowing of the curriculum. Often times, schools cut out the arts to focus more on language arts, math, and other subjects that the students are tested on. One interesting factor of this argument is that schools focus more on reading than writing because reading is emphasized on the tests. In addition, when schools do teach writing it is limited. Because the writing tests are graded via computer, the grade simply reflects sentence structure and mechanics rather than substance and ideas. The third argument that standardized testing limits students learning ties in closely with the narrowing of the curriculum. Because teachers have to focus on teaching to the test, they do not have enough time to teach other valuable lessons such as people skills and other social qualities. To prove this, this article used research that showed that GED students have roughly the same scores on standardized tests as high school graduates, however, high school graduates are more successful because of their social skills and abilities to problem solve, which are learned in a school setting (Gere). Standardized testing also limits students’ learning because it focuses on main subjects like language arts and math rather than subjects that a student may be good at. For example, a student who wants to be a writer probably will not score as well on a math test as a student who wants to be an engineer. If a student wants to be an artist, they are probably wondering why they even have to take these tests in the first place because these tests are not applicable to anything they are interested in.
Overall, this article had its arguments set up perfectly and was backed up by lots of research. The arguments compelling in themselves, and the article was written by the National Council of Teachers of English. Therefore, the writers have direct experience with the issue at hand. In addition to persuading the readers that standardized testing has negative effects on students’ learning, the article also lists ideas on how to better test students such as having tests that better test students’ abilities not just on broad subjects, but what the students are better at.
In conclusion, the articles discussed have all been useful in discovering the issue of standardized testing. The first article helped with background on why standardized testing has been taking over the education system, where the second article focused on how exactly these tests are developed. In both articles, it was easy to see where the confusion on standardized testing has come about. For example, the first article discusses how it is left up to the states to come up with the tests, however, the tests are written by large companies like Pearson, so why not just have the same test across the nation. I am also more curious about how the tests are developed because I have mostly heard teachers complain about test questions rather than praise them, but supposedly they are written by teachers. The last two articles focused on the pros and cons of standardized testing, and based on the research against standardized testing and the lack of research done in support of standardized testing, I would say that the arguments against standardized testing are more compelling. Standardized testing seems to have a lot of control over the education system, and it seems that there could be a better way to test students, however, with the way that these tests are set up now, they are only hurting the students.
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